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'Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan' Is One Of The Best New Series This Year


Maybe what the world needs now is more Jack Ryans. Rest assured audiences are getting a new one today, the fifth on-screen version of the unassuming CIA analyst/action hero. It's a series from Amazon called "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's one of the best new series of the year except for one issue.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: The biggest problem with novelist Tom Clancy's enduring everyman hero Jack Ryan is that sometimes is kind of boring - disciplined, modestly brilliant, moral to a fault. Even John Krasinski, so charismatic in NBC's version of "The Office," struggles for a distinctive take on this grown-up Boy Scout, especially when the show constantly reminds us what a stick in the mud he can be, like when a wealthy former boss tries to get intelligence information out of him to help his business.


VICTOR SLEZAK: (As Joe Mueller) I'm not asking for top secret info. I'm asking him which way the wind is blowing. There must have been a memo or something.

JOHN KRASINSKI: (As Jack Ryan) That's not quite how it works.

SLEZAK: (As Joe Mueller) You know, the problem with this self-righteous boyscout routine is that one day you're going to wake up and realize that you've been lying to yourself about not wanting all this. By then, it's going to be too late.

DEGGANS: Still, Amazon's "Jack Ryan" succeeds by spinning a suspenseful, big-budget adventure about terrorism around the blandest action hero in the business. Here, Ryan is a young CIA analyst with a doctorate in economics. He's flagged a bunch of suspicious financial transactions connected to an unknown figure for his new boss, Jim Greer.


KRASINSKI: (As Jack Ryan) I believe his name is Suleiman - means man of peace.

WENDELL PIERCE: (As James Greer) That's it. They heard a name.

KRASINSKI: (As Jack Ryan) It's not about what they're saying, sir. It's about how they're saying it. I mean, they're talking about this guy with real reverence.

PIERCE: (As James Greer) Wow, a brand new bin Laden on my first day. Who would have thunk it?


DEGGANS: Greer, played by Wendell Pierce, known for his work on HBO's "The Wire," is more than a little skeptical. In other Jack Ryan's stories, Greer is Ryan's trusted friend. But here, producers find excitement by turning up the friction between these two men, especially when Ryan goes behind Greer's back to freeze the bad guy's bank account.


PIERCE: (As James Greer) You've been doing this for how long?

KRASINSKI: (As Jack Ryan) Almost four years.

PIERCE: (As James Greer) Oh, almost four years - that's like, wow. Now, let's assume you're actually right and Suleiman or Casper the Friendly Ghost actually exists. What do you think he does when he finds out a state entity has frozen his bank account? He cuts bait, and you get nothing.

KRASINSKI: (As Jack Ryan) How many people you know walk away from $9 million?

PIERCE: (As James Greer) We could have sat on that bank, tracked every courier who came and went and wrapped up the whole network.

KRASINSKI: (As Jack Ryan) Could have just watched the front door of the bank while they walked out, pulled off the next 9/11 and we didn't do a thing.

DEGGANS: Fans of Jack Ryan's stories know how this goes. Ryan turns out to be right, and the guy who constantly claims, I'm just an analyst, teams up with Greer in the field for a dangerous international quest for Suleiman. This is a story we've seen before. Alec Baldwin played Ryan as an analyst brought in to help a Russian subcommander defect in 1990's "The Hunt For Red October."


ALEC BALDWIN: (As Ryan) The general was right. I am not field personnel. I'm only an analyst.

RICHARD JORDAN: (As Jeffrey Pelt) You're perfect.

DEGGANS: In 1994's "Clear And Present Danger," Harrison Ford played Ryan as a principal deputy CIA director. Ben Affleck and Chris Pine have played him, too. In every version, including Amazon's, Jack Ryan is the perfect public servant, smart enough to solve everything from the drug war to international terrorism without compromising his ideals. Amazon's series has the scope and sweep of a big-budget movie over eight episodes depicting the villains as fleshed-out characters with relatable agendas.

But at a time when so many government officials are mired with gaffes, scandals and corruption investigations, it feels good to see a government employee dedicated to making the right decisions for the right reasons, even if he is a little boring sometimes. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.